Both of Cache Valley’s school districts have decided to give pandemic bonuses to district staff and administrators who were not covered by state-funded stipends sent out this week to Utah teachers, principals and school employees.
But not all members of the rank and file are happy about the move.
On Tuesday night, the Logan School District Board of Education followed its Cache County counterpart in voting for district office bonuses that Superintendent Frank Schofield portrayed as fair and needed since “every employee in the district has had to assume new and additional responsibilities” during the pandemic, not just those under school roofs.
Logan’s bonuses will mirror what’s being done in the state stipend program approved by Gov. Spencer Cox, with $1,500 going to licensed staff and $1,000 to classified staff, prorated based on hours worked. In total, 40 Logan employees will be compensated at a cost of $70,000, taken from the district’s $11 million cash reserve.
The Cache bonuses will come from the district’s general fund and go to 200 employees, but in contrast to Logan, these will all be at a rate of $1,000, adjusted for hours worked.
“With district administrators, we did $1,000 instead of the $1,500 because we didn’t feel we should take more than the people given the least,” said Cache schools spokesperson Tim Smith, who like Schofield stressed all employees in the district went the extra mile this past year to compensate for disruptions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The $500 sacrifice by administrators hasn’t impressed one county school employee who phoned The Herald Journal this week to complain about her district’s decision.
“After Gov. Cox said administrations wouldn’t get the bonus, our administration took it upon themselves to find a way to get that bonus. Do you think they would do that for any of us? It’s ridiculous. I’m so aggravated,” said the classified employee, who asked not to be identified. “They aren’t working as hard as some other people. That money is supposed to go to the kids, to the schools.”
Smith contended that administrators have in fact increased their workload during the pandemic.
“I will tell you our school administrators have worked significantly harder this year, many weekends doing contact tracing for kids, in addition to our teachers,” he said. “Everybody’s worked really hard, and we didn’t give a dime extra to administrators for that weekend work that they did. We just expected that. That was part of their job.”
Both Smith and Cache Board of Education President Teri Rhodes used the word “family” to characterize the district staff and explain the bonus decision.
“The people who were excluded (by the state) are the people who support the teachers and the principals in the schools. Everyone in the district office was excluded, not just the top administrators,” Rhodes said. “It’s long been our mantra that Cache County School District is a family, and what’s good for one is good for all. So we have tried through thick and thin, through good times and bad, to make sure that if teachers are getting something then classified employees are also.”
In Logan, School Board President Larry Williams said he understands how an administrative bonus might not play well with some employees like the anonymous caller, but he still feels it is more than justified.
“I can see her perspective,” he said. “As a former classroom teacher, I can understand the perspective of teachers or classified personnel looking at it and saying, ‘These people already get paid a lot for what they’re already doing, they shouldn’t deserve a stipend,’ but I’ve noticed firsthand what we’ve asked our district people to do.”
In addition to her complaint about administrative bonuses, the anonymous employee questioned all of this year’s special stipends for school employees using taxpayer money.
“Who says that my job was any harder than the guy’s down the street? And who says the guy down the street that lost his job does not need the money any more than me or you?” she asked.
Rhodes said she sees the employee’s point.
“I’m not going to disagree with that employee. I agree that’s a true statement. There are lots of people who are hurting financially, emotionally and in other ways that we just can’t know,” Rhodes said.
She went on, however, to express gratitude and admiration for Cache School District employees’ efforts in these difficult times:
“I appreciate what everyone has done to keep schools open because there are school districts in other states that are just now thinking about maybe it’s safe to open schools. As a school board in the Cache County School District we truly believe the best place and safest place sometimes for children is in school … physically and emotionally.”
The statewide school bonus program, known as the Supplemental Educator COVID-19 Stipend, was passed by the Legislature late last year and signed into law on Feb. 5. The payments, totaling $121 million, were sent out this week.